2016-07-06 (Day 20) Venarey les Laumes – Saint Florentin

Today’s photo shows the Gallic chieftain Vercingetorix surrendering to Julius Caesar after the Battle of Alesia in 51 BC. The Battle of Alesia took place near where the modern towns of Venarey les Laumes and Alise Sainte Reine are now located in the Cote d’Or region of France. The battle was arguably the most pivotal battle in the history of France as the defeat of the Gauls here at Alesia led to their country becoming a Roman province.

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Camping Alesia in Venarey-les-Laumes. At a lot of campsites in the summer, the pitches can be rock hard but not so at Camping Alesia. The grass was lush and as a result,  it was like sleeping on a carpet. So after a such a good night’s sleep and after assessing the gears on my bike, I decided to chance cycling the rest of the way to Beauvais on just one gear. The route from here to Beauvais airport was mostly flat so I decided to put the rear derailleur in 7th gear. This would allow me to make good progress on the flat and still get up any small hills that came my way.

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Total cycled today – 75 km Total cycled so far – 1130 km. It was a long way to go today with only one gear but I managed fine though a few hills near Tonnere were tough. I started off in 7th gear but as the day went on, the chain kept slipping and by the time I got to Saint Florentin, the bike was in tenth gear. Fortunately, the last 20 km was mostly downhill so I managed OK.

Battle of Alesia in 51 BC. After leaving the campsite about 11, I made my way back to the town of Veneray-les-Laumes. Veneray along with the neighbouring village of Alise-Sainte-Reine is famous throughout France as the location of the Battle of Alesia in 51 BC.  This is arguably the most important battle in the history of France when the Roman army under Julius Caesar defeated a Gallic army led by Vercingetorix. The defeat of the Gauls at Alesia led to France becoming a Roman province and also partly to Caesar gaining control over the whole of the Roman Empire.

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Gaul circa 52 BC. Caesar had conquered most of Gaul between 58-55 BC but in 53 BC, a chieftain in the Auvergne region of France called Vercingetorix rebelled. In 52 BC, he defeated Caesar’s army near Gergovie but Caesar was able to summon more legions and pursued Vercingetorix’s army to Alesia. At that time, Alesia was a fortified settlement on a steep hill in between 2 rivers. Due to  the strong defensive features in Alesia, Caesar decided on a siege to force surrender by starvation. Considering that about 80,000 men were garrisoned in Alesia, together with the local civilian population, this would not have taken long. To guarantee a perfect blockade, Caesar ordered the construction of an encircling set of fortifications around Alesia. It was eleven Roman miles long (16 km) long and had 24 redoubts (towers).

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Roman fortifications at the Battle of Alesia. Caesar’s troops dug 3 trenches, up to 6m in depth around Alesia. One of the trenches was filled with water from the local rivers and the other two trenches were filled with stakes. The stakes  were sharpened at the top and hardened with fire and then sunk into the trench and fastened at the bottom so that they could not be pulled up. Behind the trenches, he built a 4m high rampart with large stakes projecting from its base to prevent the enemy from scaling it. To prepare for the arrival of the Gallic relief forces, he also constructed an outer fortification, with the same specifications as the inner fortification.

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Source : Delcampe.net

Gallic relief army at the Battle of Alesia in 51 BC. Vercingetorix sent word to other Gallic tribes that he was being besieged and a relief army of about 200,000 troops arrived at Alesia to try and break the Roman siege. After waiting a day or two to assess the situation, the relief army then attacked the outer fortification while Vercingetorix’s besieged troops attacked the inner one. However, this combined attack was unsuccessful. The next day the Gauls tried again by attacking at night but this attack was also unsuccessful.

Attack by the Gallic relief army at Alesia. However, the Gauls had spotted a weakness in the Roman fortifications.The north side of a hill near Veneray-les-Laumes had not been fortified due to the steep terrain  The Gauls selected 60,000 men and appointed a relative of Vercingetorix, to lead the attack on that spot. They marched there before dawn and launched the attack at noon. At the same time, Vercingetorix  attacked any part of the inner fortification which seemed weak. Caesar sent cavalry to support the defense of the inner fortification and then leading fresh troops, he joined in the battle against the relief army at the outer fortification. Caesar’s arrival galvanized the Roman troops and his cavalry then attacked behind the Gauls, causing the Gallic relief army to flee. The Roman forces had been outnumbered 4 to 1 by the Gallic army but their fortifications and tactics meant they won the battle with relatively few casualties.

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Vercingetorix surrenders to the Romans. According to the Roman writer Plutarch, Vercingetorix surrendered in dramatic fashion, riding his beautifully adorned horse out of Alesia before dismounting and then taking off his armor in front of Caesar. The scene above is taken from a movie made in 2001 called Druids about the life of Vercingetorix. After surrendering, Vercingetorix  was imprisoned in the Tullianum prison in Rome for five years, before being publicly displayed in Caesar’s triumph in 46 BC. He was then executed after the triumphal procession, probably by strangulation in his prison cell.

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Gaul was then divided into 3 Roman provinces. Alesia proved to be the end of resistance against Caesar’s invasion of Gaul and effectively marked the end of the Gallic Wars. Gallia was divided into three Roman provinces; Gallia Aquitania, Gallia Lugdununensis and Gallia Belgica. Marcus Agrippa became its first governor and he built a network of roads centered on Gallic capital, Lugdunum (Lyon).

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Vercingetorix statue near Alise-Sainte-Reine.  1900 years after his rebellion, a seven-meter-tall statue was commissioned by Emperor Napoleon III to commemorate Vercingetorix as a symbol of Gallic nationalism. The monument, created by the sculptor Aime Millet was installed in 1865 on Mont Auxois in the center of Alesia. The base has a nationalistic inscription installed by Viollet-le-Duc, translating into French the words of Julius Caesar: “Gaul united, Forming a single nation, Animated by a common spirit, Can defy the Universe”.

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MuseoParc Alesia near Veneray-les-Laumes. In 2012, an interpretation center was opened on the site of the Battle of Alesia by Francois Fillon, the prime minister of France. The 52m diameter building cost €52m to build and hosts artifacts and exhibits related to the Battle of Alesia. Entry to the MuseoParc costs €10 in the summer, €8 during spring and autumn and it has been visited by 150,000 people a year since it opened.

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Lionel Royer’s painting of Vercingetorix surrendering to Caesar.. Lionel Royer (1852-1926) specialized in painting historical scenes but his most famous work is shown above, which he called “Vercingetorix Throws Down his Arms at the Feet of Julius Caesar”. Royer painted the work in 1899 and it had been on display at the Musee Crozatier in Le Puy-en-Velay, about 200 km south of Alesia. But in 2012, it was temporarily moved to the MuseoParc for the inauguration.

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Tractor with load of logs outside a traditional stone house near Seigny. After leaving Veneray-les-Laumes, I took the main road towards Montbard. Near Seigny, I came across a Massey Ferguson 165 with a load of logs. This resulted in one of my favorite photos from this year’s Tour de Travoy. The load of logs in the trailer has been built with  the same care and attention to detail as the stonework on the face of this house.

Canal de Bourgogne. Near Montbard, I cycled along the Canal de Bourgogne for about a mile. The canal is 242 km long and it has a total of 189 locks. Construction began in 1775 and was completed in 1832. The Canal de Bourgogne connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea via the Seine, the Yonne, the Saône and the Rhône. The highest point of the canal is at Pouilly-en-Auxois, which is 378m above sea level. At this point the canal passes through a tunnel which is 3,333 metres long. The lowest point is at the junction with the Yonne at 79 m (259 ft) above sea level.

The harvest was only starting to get underway in the Yonne region of France. Last year, I had set off from Paris on this very day to start the 2015 Tour de Travoy and my abiding memory from that day was all the combine harvesters busy working in the fields to the west of Paris. During the first 3 days of the 2015 Tour de Travoy, I must have passed by at least 100 and maybe as many as 200 combine harvesters busy cutting wheat.But so far on the 2016 Tour de Travoy, I hadn’t come across any combine harvesters until today but unlike last year, there was only 1 or 2 at work. You could tell the wheat was not as tall and also much darker than the same time last year. There had been heavy rain throughout northern France in June and the bad weather meant that wheat was ripening later than normal.

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Message of support for the French football team on a message board in Lezinnes. France were due to play Germany in the Euro 2016 semi-final the following evening but you wouldn’t realize it from cycling through the Yonne region of France. I probably only spotted 2 or 3 houses all day with French flags even though the game was due to be played about 100 km away in Paris. At least, the town of Lezinnes made more of an effort than most people in France by displaying a good luck message on the town’s electronic message board.

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Abandoned toilet seat at a roadside rest area near Tonnere. I pulled into this parking area alongside the road for a break and then spotted a plastic toilet seat lying in the grass verge. I couldn’t resist Tweeting this image saying that I had decided to dump my toilet seat as it was too bulky. A lot of French toilets don’t have toilet seats and you have to sit on the porcelain toilet bowl which can be a bit cold and uncomfortable. So someone, probably with a campervan and lots of space, must have brought a toilet seat with them on holiday and for some reason then just dumped it here at a rest stop. But there is no fun in tweeting that someone  else had dumped the toilet seat when I could imply that it was me that had dumped the toilet seat. However, trying to explain why I might have needed a toilet seat in 140 characters on Twitter proved difficult and I was later told that no-one could understand my tweet. Obviously,  my toilet humour was lost on most people.

Pharmacy temperature sign in the town of Tonnerre. The day had started cool and overcast but as the day went on, it got hotter and hotter. In the town of Tonnerre, the local pharmacy sign was displaying 26 degrees. Most pharmacy signs tend to exaggerate the temperature especially if they are not in the shade but I think this sign if anything was under-reporting the temperature as it was really hot. It certainly was one of the warmest days I faced during the 2016 Tour de Travoy.

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World War 1 memorial in Flogney-la-Chapelle. There were more French flags on display at the WW1 memorial here in Flogney-la-Chapelle than I seen all day outside the the thousands of houses in this part of France. Perhaps French people associate La Tricolore with World War 1 and are reluctant to display it.

Camping de l’Armancon in Saint Florentin. It was after 6 when I made it to my campsite for the night at Camping de l’Armacon. The campsite was lovely and beautifully laid out and I would wholeheartedly recommend it for a night’s rest except for one thing. The campsite is located beside the Canal de Bourgogne and the Armancon river which is very slow moving. It may look idyllic but slow moving rivers are often breeding grounds for mosquitos. Believe me, the mosquitoes at Camping de l’Armacon were by far the worst I had ever come across in France. It took me about half an hour to set up my tent as I was being bit so much. In hindsight, I should have put on a jacket and leggings but i was used to being bit by midges back home and didn’t think they would do much harm. But being bit by a mosquito is more like being stung by a bee rather than being bit by a midge and the pain in my arms and legs didn’t subside all night. I ended up getting hardly any sleep all night as my arms and legs hurt that much.

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